The Life in a Day digital adventure

Grab your video camera and document your day. Today (it already started!) is the official Life in a Day video project in which folks from around the world are going to be submitting a video document of this single day in their lives (July 24) to form sort of a canvas of the world’s activity in a 24 hour time frame.

Later, the producers of the Youtube-based site — Kevin McDonald (who did the One Day in September project) and Ridley Scott (Yep, of Hollywood fame) — will create some sort of montage of the best of the videos. Good luck with that, fellows. You’re going to have to pour through a lot of video content, I bet. But it will be interesting to see the world through the eyes of regular people.

The website notes:

Life In A Day is a historic global experiment to create a user-generated documentary film shot in a single day, by you. On 24 July, you have 24 hours to capture a glimpse of your life on camera.

Am I going to do it? Sure. Why not. I have my little Flip camera, although it is possible the day is going to be boring. We have a Little League All-star baseball game on tap (if we win, they go to the finals tomorrow) and that’s about it.

If you run out of ideas,producer Kevin McDonald proposes a few things to consider creating a video about:

  • What do you love?
  • What do you fear?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What’s in your pocket that has meaning?

Give it a try.

Peace (in the world),


The Common Core Comes to Massachusetts

Our state of Massachusetts has joined a growing list of other states (28, I think) in adopting the Common Core of Standards as our own curriculum framework for the future. (see news release from our Education Department).

This is sure to be a controversial decision for some time, as so much of the work we do in our classrooms and professional development revolves around our state curriculum frameworks (which form the basis for our MCAS standardized test). While I have some issues with our past state frameworks, for the most part, I found them to be pretty thoughtful (with the exception that technology was never really embedded in there) and placed a lot of emphasis on creative content.The Common Core is much more focused on expository reading and writing, with informational text at the heart of much of the standards.

In fact, some backlash on the decision to move into the Common Core is already starting, as some believe that the Common Core is a step backwards for Massachusetts, given its past work around curriculum frameworks, and they worry about what a national assessment of the Common Core might look like in the future.

“We are now tethered to the rest of the country. Where we could have shown the political courage of implementing state reforms that gave us the best schools in the world, well, now we have to drag along the rest of the country before we can do it.” – from the blog post by Jim Stergios, of the Pioneer Institute.

The full Common Core document for ELA is here.

The Common Core will become our new state guideposts for English Language Arts and Mathematics, although when and how that transition will take shape is unknown. At a recent New Literacies Initiative week that I was part of, our state education commissioner sort of hemmed and hawed about whether Massachusetts would actually adopt the Common Core this summer, but I knew it would surely happen because we are in line for federal dollars in our bid for Race to the Top and the Common Core is a huge carrot dangling in front of us.

While I am not sure that moving towards a national curriculum framework is the right path, I do like that the Common Core emphasizes the teaching of writing and reading across the content areas.  I know my students come to me with a real weakness in understanding informational text. This shift puts literacy right into the heart of most learning, although at what expense to creative writing and reading, I can’t yet say. (Sidenote: Next week, my wife is joining a group of National Writing Project folks on a year-long project to begin work on designing lesson plans and curriculum guides that will allow teachers to meet the requirements of the Common Core while still retaining writing at the heart of activities and teacher flexibility. More on that in the future …)

One thing that occurs to me is that our school district’s Standards-based progress report (formerly know as our report card) is built off our of (now) old Massachusetts curriculum frameworks, which means that we need to revisit that system again in light of the adoption of the Common Core standards. Looking over the Common Core document, there is a lot of alignment between the two sets of standards, but I foresee some more progress report work in the near future.

Right now, I am pulling out all of the sixth grade reading and writing standards from the Common Core report as a way to get a sense of what is there and I am hoping this will help me shape my overall opinions of it as a curriculum guide. I know there are plenty of folks who don’t like the Common Core standards, but I want to see it in all of its details myself before making a judgment.

Peace (in the changes),

The Return of Day in a Sentence


Wow. What happened to Day in a Sentence? It went on a little snoozer, I guess, as I kind of stepped away from the idea for a bit. But I miss seeing what folks write about when they mull over their day or week.

So, let’s do a Day in a Sentence, shall we? But I want to use AnswerGarden again for collecting answers, so: let’s do DAY IN A SHORT PHRASE (or word) as AnswerGarden has a character limit.

Here’s how it works:

  • Reflect on your day or your week;
  • Boil it down into a word or a short phrase;
  • Pop your response into our Day in a Sentence AnswerGarden (or use the embedded AnswerGarden down below);
  • (optional): After your response has gone in, add your first name to AnswerGarden, too, so we can see who has been contributing.
  • You’re done!

Thanks for contributing!

Peace (in the sharing),

What is Your Day in a Word or Phrase?… at

Mulling over my ideas about Tech

Later today, I am going to Skype into a class of prospective teachers at Creighton University in Omaha that is being taught by a fellow tech traveler, Mike M. I feel honored that I am even being asked and I am trying to think of a message that I can send to these folks as they consider the world of teaching and technology.

Mike asked if I might think about talking about my work around webcomics or stopmotion movies. But I want to try to distill a message, too, about why I think technology belongs in the classroom and some practical advice for other teachers to at least consider.

Here, then, is some morning brainstorming around my ideas of technology.

  • Technology must become part of the general curriculum. The phrase technology integration is how we say it but what we mean is that ideally, all schools would rip out their computer labs and move computers and technology right into the classroom. There are still too many places where “technology” is a time when classroom teachers drop their kids off for their own prep period. Technology in isolation is almost wasted time. We need to find ways to integrate the tools into the everyday world of learning. There are, of course, many barriers to this, including aging equipment and lack of equipment. I understand. But isolated computer labs just won’t cut it.
  • Teachers need mentors/coaches as collaborative partners. There are many districts that have this model (not mine), in which a teacher with some expertise in technology is the coach of others. Sometimes, they are called technology integration specialists. An ideal model for this is that a mentor teacher goes into the classroom for long stretches of time, working on the planning  of a unit of instruction with the classroom teacher. Together, they find tools that expand the learning opportunities and push the students beyond, or in conjunction with, the traditional curriculum. And then (this is key), the mentor stays in the classroom with the teacher as the unit is taught, acting on a sounding board, troubleshooter and helper. This would instill confidence, which could then spill over to other projects. The fear factor is a huge deterrent to technology adoption by our colleagues. one difference between most teachers and most students (not all) is that students are fearless with technology. They’ll dive right in and not worry if they might “break” it. What they often lack is a framework for why they are doing what they are doing, and that is something we teachers need to help them understand.
  • We all need to play. Teachers need time to explore and play with technology, and they need this time within the professional development framework. And they need to do this  “play” collaboratively with other teachers so that they can help each other out as they are learning something new. This is not wasted time. It is valuable time because as we play, and as we move into new territory such as cool tools, we learn more about how we learn. Students need the same. They need time to play when you are introducing something new. If you don’t give them this time, they’ll do it anyway.  Trust me. Better to allocate time for exploration and then move towards focused learning. Don’t underestimate the play time.
  • Students need to be active composers, not passive gatherers. In my mind, accessing the Internet to gather facts for a report is not “using technology.” This is mostly a passive activity that merely replaces an encyclopedia with something quicker. I want students to be creating content with the digital tools available, taking ownership of the material. I want them to be composers. We need to constantly strive to make sure our students are not merely watching the world, but engaged in the world. Technology provides amazing tools for doing this — with writing, with voice, with video — and that kind of engagement around creating something original should be at the heart of most learning opportunities.
  • Reflective practice should be part of every assignment. I imagine this is mostly true for most of us, but we need to make sure students are reflecting on what they have done. What did they like about that tool? What did they not like? How would this project have looked different if they used another tool or site or platform? How could you improve upon the design of it? This stepping-back reflective stance is what helps shift students into critical thinkers.

I am pretty sure I can talk about webcomics or stopmotion movies through the lens of these ideas.

Peace (in the brain dumping, to quote Bud the Teacher),

Book Review: Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson, seeks to tackle the changes that are underway in the ways youths are using technology to learn and the disconnect with schools. Collins and Halverson first lay out the historical perspective of education, weaving in the argument that people learn best when given choices for engagement within a framework of curriculum. They also note the many barriers in place that thwart change, including our scheduling of blocks of learning time, uniform learning approaches to all student of all abilities at the same time, and learning by assimilation as opposed to learning by doing. When schools move towards a “one style fits all” pattern, we start to find students disengaging from their learning and turning elsewhere to become engaged.

This “somewhere” is all too often outside of the school, and often into the myriad realms of technology, including social networking and gaming, argue Collins and Halverson. The two writers do a good job of acknowledging the opponents of technology (under the umbrella of the “classical curriculum”) while pushing forward with the view that we must make some changes to the classroom now because the changes in the way young people learn has already begun, and can’t be dialed back by schools.

They note that resistance to new technologies are as old as the concept of schooling, and cite three ways this resistance takes place:

  • Condemn the Technology by arguing that the technology diverts attention away from the real learning taking place.
  • Co-opt the Technology by using elements of the technology for other means, such as converting a computer lab into a place for standardized testing.
  • Marginalize the Technology by having educators utilize a small component of something larger, using it for a specific purpose and calling it “technology integration.”

Some of the suggestions for a way forward into harnessing the potential of technologies, as put by Collins and Halverson, include developing a knowledge “certificate” program for high school students that would allow them to pursue an area of expertise on their own terms and then graduate at any age (although, they note that the rigor of the certificates needs to be high); have students choose a discipline field that has real-life value at an early age and then develop learning opportunities (including the use of mentors on project-based learning) as offshoots of that discipline through the years; and encourage teachers to look at the world of gaming as a model for learning.

Gaming, according to Collins and Halverson, encourages collaborative problem solving, use of scarce resources, understanding complex instructions and a motivation to push forward to the end.

“Helping teachers understand how system-modeling games like Civilization, Railroad Tycoon and The Sims could help students better meet content goals could serve to introduce technologies into everyday school practice.” — Collins and Halverson (119)

This book also calls on teachers and administrators and parents to work together to form a foundation for integrating technology into the lives of young people in meaningful ways, and urges us to know and understand the technologies of our children and students. It’s only by understanding the technology that we can consider the possibilities for the classroom.

I agree, and this book — while somewhat dry in places and often rehashes similar ideas from different angles — is a good one for teachers and parents to mull over. I like that the last section is directed towards school administrators and government officials, who are urged to do more to balance accountability with freedom of learning, and also to pay heed to the deepening digital divide that is taking place between the wealthy (whose schools can either afford new technology and qualified teachers or whose parents have the cash for the after-school programs that seem to be the home to much innovation) and the poor (whose schools struggle with the basics and easily get hemmed in by the need to meet standardized curriculum goals that leave little room for exploration by either the teacher or the students.)

Peace (in the future),

Andrea Asks: What Did You Learn Today?

I was away this weekend, reconnecting with a group of friends, and am trying to weed through my RSS. I came across a blog post by my friend, Andrea, who interviewed another friend, Paul, about motivation and learning. At the end, she asked the question: what did you learn today?

I thought about the weekend with my friends, whom I see only once a year but that yearly connection is so important to all of us now that we are scattered about and have families, etc.

So, here is my response to Andrea.

What I Learned (or relearned) This Weekend

Peace (in the thinking),

Other Stuff: Silly Bandz I’d Like to See

(Note from Kevin: I am writing some humor columns this week. Just … because.)

Near the end of the school year, a student of mine dropped a Silly Bandz into my hand and said, “a gift for you, Mr. H.” I untangled the thing and it took the shape of a saxophone. Now I get it! This Silly Bandz was cool (unlike all those others). So, I started thinking, there must be some Silly Bandz brain trust somewhere that thinks up the shapes of these fading fads.

What if I were in charge? What Silly Bandz  would I invent?

  • My dog making ME dinner. For a change. He’ll have this little doggy chef’s hat on and a spatula in one paw. Although you can’t see it, there will be a steak grilling in front of him. And he won’t take a bite, either. It’s all for me.
  • The perfect snowflake. This will be a tricky mold to make for the folks in the back room, as every snowflake Silly Bandz will need to be different and unique. But I am sure they will figure it out. They’re engineers, right? That’s why they get the big bucks.
  • A classroom scene in which the students are teaching the teacher. I can see their silhouettes hovering over the adult form of the teacher, who seems confused. The perfect gift for the colleague down the hallway who can’t seem to stop lecturing all day, every day, all year long. Of course, this kind of teacher is probably immune to the fad of Silly Bandz and was one of the first in your school to ban the things from their students. Chances are, you won’t reach this teacher with a Silly Banz, but you can try!
  • My wife. So she can be with me all day. I just take her off my wrist, give her a little flip and there she is. Perfect. Of course, this is not a design for anyone else. Just me. I don’t want you looking at my wife, even if she is reduced to a piece of colored elastic.
  • Bass Clef. Because the bass clef never gets respect. It’s always “treble clef this” and “treble clef that.” I realize this is a musician’s inside joke, so it could be one of those bracelets that sells for thousands of dollars on eBay someday in the future. You can’t go wrong with the bass clef, man.
  • Lawn mower. Or maybe a vacuum cleaner. This is one you pawn off to the kids as a reminder that they have some chores to be done. Of course, your wife or husband or significant other might also slip it onto your wrist when you aren’t looking, so be careful what you wish for.
  • A replica of the Internet. I have no idea how they would make this mold but it sure would be fun to watch them try. Them, meaning those engineers again. Which makes me wonder: how do you explain to your mom and dad that your engineering degree is going to good use … making Silly Bandz? I’d lie about what I was doing. I’d say I was working on the underground SuperCollider project or something, even as the wads of cash was falling out of my pockets. I think I just went off on some tangent here.
  • Rotary phone. Just to confuse the kids. Make sure the circles for your fingers are really big, too. I mean, monstrous circles.
  • A psychiatrist’s couch. For those moments when you find yourself talking to yourself. Bonus: no hourly fee or judgmental questions from the shrink. In fact, the shrink here is a verb, as in the couch has been shrunk to fit your wrist. If it helps to have a little psychiatrist on your wrist, too, we can probably do that for you. That would be found in our new “doctor’s pack” of Silly Bandz (which includes the rare Brain Surgeon bracelet to impress all of your friends).
  • A brain cell. I don’t know about you, but I could always use a few extra during the day.

Oh, the possibilities are endless, although I imagine the fad is already sputtering if I am writing about it. Maybe instead of coming up with ideas that piggyback on the last thing, I need to imagine the next fad in waiting …

Peace (in the silliness),

Other Stuff: Dear Authorized Guest Blogger

(Note from Kevin: I am trying out some humor pieces. This one was inspired by a colleague who wrote a piece for an established technology-education journal, only to find out they wanted her to pay to be published. It got me thinking about all of the guest blogging that goes on, and what if the guests had to pay to blog.) Dear Authorized Guest Blogger,

Thank you so much for agreeing to write for my blog while I am away on vacation. Right now, as you toil away at the ideas you’ve graciously pitched to me, I am probably sipping blender drinks on the porch overlooking the ocean, with a book in my lap. I wish you were here. Not. If you were here, that would mean that my blog didn’t have any writers and my site is all about the traffic flow. Cha-ching! Don’t worry. I am checking my Google Analytics each night to make sure that you are keeping up as my Authorized Guest Blogger. I’ll be in touch if things start dropping.

I read your last note to me and I understand your confusion. I needed your Paypal number because for every word that you write and publish at my blog while I am away, you have agreed to pay me $1. Don’t worry. There is a $100 maximum payment for each day that you are my Authorized Guest Blogger. That’s just one of the benefits of being my Authorized Guest Blogger. Unauthorized Guest Bloggers have no ceiling at all. I’ll remind you that this financial agreement was right there in the user agreement I sent you. You clicked “I’m All Set To Write,” didn’t you? You’re not one of those people who just clicks boxes everywhere and has no clue what they clicked, are you? I am hoping my Authorized Guest Blogger is more savvy than that. Maybe that’s something you could write about? Just an idea. Five weeks of guest blogging is a lot of writing, so you may find yourself one morning, wondering what to write.

I may have forgotten to mention that you can feel free to ignore the 10 flashing advertisements on the banners of the homepage when you are writing. While some people find them annoying, I happen to enjoy all of the dancing critters and explosions on my blog. Plus, it brings in some cold hard cash. If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you could go down to the town library a few days a week and click on those advertisements. It’s better if you make your way from one computer to the next and then go through the clicking cycle each time. You are encouraged to ask your own friends to click on the ads, too.  In fact, you should demand it of them. They’re your friends. They owe you one, right? It’s great entertainment for all ages, I assure you.

I should mention a thing or two about some “regulars” at the site. First of all, Hopscotch is a pain in the ass. All he does is complain, complain, complain about everything I have written. It will be a small victory if he ignores you during your time as Authorized Guest Blogger. I’ve tried many times to put him into the Spam filter yet he always finds a way to crawl out. I’m starting to think that Hopscotch is my brother-in-law but I can’t prove it. Simone likes to leave comments that have no relevance to the post. I think she just likes to see herself write. I ignore her and I suggest you do the same. Whatever you do, do not engage Rascal in a conversation. He’ll suck the fun right out of your life. If you feel the urge, bring him to your own blog and dance with him there. Wait. I take that back. I don’t even want you thinking about your blog while you are my Authorized Guest Blogger.

Finally, please be sure that you’re monitoring the blog at least twice every hour. It’s OK to set up an alarm clock for the night. Even better, bring out your sleeping bag and set up shop for the next month in front of your monitor. I am sure that five weeks will fly by. I know it will for me. I can already feel the sand in my toes. Being a blogger has many benefits, including the use of Authorized Guest Bloggers like you. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy, or afford, my tropical vacation without you.

Thank you and have fun!